The more than $100 million in funding the federal government has earmarked for Indigenous women’s shelters is just part of the solution to violence against Indigenous women and girls, says a former commissioner of a national inquiry that has been examining the problem.
Federal ministers on Monday announced a $103 million investment to build and support at least 178 shelters and transitional homes for Indigenous women, children and 2SLGBTQI+ people fleeing gender-based violence.
Sen. Michèle Audette, a former commissioner for a national inquiry conducted to examine the high levels of violence faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls, said the money is a step towards fulfilling the Recommendations of the investigation – but only one step.
“It’s not just a few spots where we’re going to say and mark, ‘Check, we’re okay now,'” Audette said.
“For me, it’s a constant call for justice.”
CLOCK | Ottawa Announces Funding for New Indigenous Shelters
While the money addresses one of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) key recommendations — that of providing long-term, sustainable funding for shelters — Audette said the funding level has yet to be reassessed each year.
Audette also said she was concerned by the fact that organizations and communities will have to compete for funding by submitting proposals – which could result in them having to hire consultants.
“Think of the people who are unable to pay a consultant, pay an expert who knows how to write in your own words,” she said.
“They don’t have that expertise because they’re far, far away from a city.”
Jocelyn Formsma, CEO of the National Association of Friendship Centers, said it’s good news that Ottawa recognizes the need to fund shelters and transitional housing in urban areas where most Indigenous peoples live.
She said she also has concerns about how the money will be spent.
Formsma said her organization has a proven track record of working with communities, but still has to constantly reapply for funding.
“We have to write proposals all the time,” Formsma said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
“We still have much more to do”
The funding will support 22 projects in 21 communities across the country, off and on reservations, in the north and in urban areas.
According to Justice Canada, In 2014, Indigenous women were almost six times more likely to be killed than non-Indigenous women.
Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu used to run a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She said stable funding is critical to give communities and organizations the confidence to succeed.
“I know we have a lot more to do with housing,” Hajdu said. “But this is a very important piece.”
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is providing $81 million for construction, while Indigenous Services Canada is providing $15 million for operational support and $7.8 million for start-up costs.
“This is a big day,” Secretary of State for Crown Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said during the announcement.
“This will be a game changer. It will save lives.”
“It has to go faster”
One of the grant recipients is the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network, which is building a new six-unit transitional home in Stephenville, NL.
She has applied for a grant four times.
“I’m just grateful it’s happening now,” said President Odelle Pike. “Things have to go faster.”
The building will include two family units and four single units, Pike said.
Women can stay six months to give themselves time to find a new place to live.
Pike said the building will feature various programs, a play area, and a community room where women can gather.
The home is expected to open in May 2024.
“It’s a start,” said Pike.
“We are very, very grateful, because in our area in particular, some women who are fleeing violence have to travel long distances.”
Women on Newfoundland’s Port au Port peninsula have to drive at least two hours to get to the nearest transitional home, leaving many in dangerous environments, Pike said.
Funding comes from an amount of $724.1 million from the Violence Prevention Strategy announced in the Fall 2020 Economic Statement.
According to CMHC, $4.38 million has been allocated to four projects so far.
Applications for other projects are possible until March 2024. The CMHC is spending $420 million over five years on the work.
The new shelters and transitional facilities will be built at the following locations:
Heiltsuk First Nation, British Columbia
Dena Tha’ First Nation, Alberta
Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, Saskatchewan
Cross Lake First Nation, Manitoba
Fisher River Cree Nation, Manitoba
Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Manitoba
Beausoleil First Nation, Ontario
Picangicum First Nation, Ontario
Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario
Northern Village of Puvirnituq, Quebec (Transition Home)
Northern Village of Puvirnituq, Quebec (Accommodation)
Fort Frances tribal territory, Ontario
Garden River First Nation, Ontario
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Ontario
Sanikiluaq Parish, Nunavut
Montagnais de Pakua Shipi, Quebec
Tobique First Nation, New Brunswick
Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Manitoba
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador